Chili con Queso

Image of a bowl of Chili con Queso with tortilla chipsSay Cheese
My sister is a foodie just like me. Weekends are planned around baking schedules. Excuses to have a get-together are whipped up so that a certain cookbook can be taken for a test drive. Entire international vacation itineraries revolve around restaurants and the foods of far-off lands. We love good food. It is because of this love of all things culinary that she gets a rather large dose of ridicule for her love of queso.

You can call it queso, cheese sauce, or even cheese dip. But, no matter what you call it if there is a tray of semi-fresh tortilla chips with bright orange cheese sauce you bet my sister is all over them. The more bright orange and weird the queso, the better. So, it should come as no surprise that at a recent get-together there was a small, gently bubbling crockpot of queso.

The good news is that this wasn’t the queso that you pump onto chips at the ballpark. This was a different animal. This was queso that she made. And, fresh queso is a totally different experience. Yes, you might have to get past the fact that it is indeed still made with Velveeta—a product my mother only bought to put in our emergency earthquake kit. But, the results are worth it.

Real queso does not have that plasticky sheen and/or texture. Real queso is actually quite good and I will bet anyone that the loudest naysayers will be the same people who park themselves by the bowl and can’t stop eating it. (Guilty)

This is the recipe she made and it comes adapted from my favorite cookbook and restaurant Tacolicious. It’s one of their most popular items on the menu. Give it a try for Cinco de Mayo and see what you think…

Chili con Queso
Yields 12 servings
Recipe adapted from Tacolicious by Sara Deseran Read more…

Beef Birria Tacos

Photo of Beef Birria Tacos with broth for dippingThe Humble Taco
Life is good at keeping you humble in big and small ways. My latest karmic reminder that I’m not as cool and all-knowing as I thought I was, came in the form of a taco.

I think I have made it obvious over the many years that I have been writing these posts that I am a big fan of Mexican cuisine. So much so that I felt confident that I had a better than average knowledge of regions, techniques, and any number of popular recipes. Imagine my surprise a few months back when I was introduced to Birria Tacos.

For something that is as ubiquitous and widely revered as Birria Tacos, you would think that someone for whom Mexican food is life would have come across it early on in the love affair. You would be wrong. And, since my introduction, I see them everywhere.

In case you are also one of those souls who is ignorant of the beauty of a Birria taco, they are essentially the taco version of a French dip. You start by making a rich and flavorful stew that you can eat as is. Or you can take the meat out, chop it up, fry up some tortillas, fill them with the chopped meat and some cheese, then grill them. To eat you dip the taco in the consume which is simply the broth from the stew and enjoy.

If you are wanting to try them yourself, I would first recommend doing a search for a local taqueria that makes them. Making your own is a bit of a process (as you might imagine) since they have to cook slow and low for a number of hours. Also, most recipes, like ours listed below, make enough for at least 8 people. If you are cool freezing some of it, then you are set. But, this might be better saved for a weekend get-together. The traditional meat used for this dish is goat. But, beef is just as popular. And, you can make Birria Tacos with lamb or pork if you want to be a rebel.

No matter which method you choose, I strongly encourage you to give these a try. Your mouth will be very happy you did…

Beef Birria Tacos
Recipe adapted from House of Yumm
Yields 8 servings Read more…

Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita PibilHome Plate
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting my sons’ baseball team for dinner. Twenty or so 16–18-year-olds invaded my kitchen…and mass hysteria ensued. Team dinners are a long-standing tradition that rotates from house to house each week. Since the dinner the week prior to my hosting the event served tri-tip, and the week after is going with a pasta feed, I had to come up with something that the boys would like, that I could make a lot of, and wouldn’t break the bank.

After much deliberation and a suggestion from one of my boys, we went with tacos.

Tacos are always a good idea. I have never met a person who didn’t like tacos. (Although I am sure there is someone somewhere.) I could have made things super easy and had the whole party catered. But, my inner Abuela wouldn’t allow it. That’s just not how I roll. To save at least some of my sanity I did order large amounts of beans, rice, and salsa from my favorite taqueria—as well as a mountain of freshly-made tortillas. As it turned out I didn’t order enough.

I did make all the fillings. There was Pollo Asada, Carne Asada, and last but not least, Cochinita Pibil which is similar to Carnitas—except that instead of cooking the pork shoulder in lard you slow-cook it in a marinade with achiote paste and citrus juice. Alas, I did not dig a hole in my backyard and cook it in banana leaves as is traditional. I figured that might be just one step too far.

The Cochinita Pibil was so good. It was very hard not to keep stealing some for a snack throughout the day because I was worried about having enough. And, it turns out I should have been worried (and perhaps afraid).

Twenty-two boys showed up at my house after practice that evening and consumed 12 pounds of Carne Asada, 10 pounds of Pollo Asada, 10 pounds of the Cochinita Pibil, 4 quarts of rice, 3 quarts of beans, and about a dozen avocados worth of guacamole. It was like a swarm of locusts blew through. There was nothing left except for a few sad tortillas. It was a staggering display of teenage calorie consumption. How they still had room for ice cream after is astonishing. One of my sons ate himself to the point of pain. So, I guess it was tasty. He rallied the next day to head off to school no worse for wear.

I am hosting the team again at the end of the month since I have two kids on the team. I’m not sure what to have yet. But, I am more prepared now. And, I understand that even though I may think I have enough, it’s a good idea to add a little more just in case…

Cochinita Pibil Recipe
Yields about 16 tacos
Recipe adapted from Tacolicious by Sara Deseran  Read more…

George’s Garden Salsa

George’s Garden SalsaMy husband could live on chips and salsa. It is by far his most favorite thing in the world behind ice cream and tacos which is why whenever we discuss planting a veggie garden, I always have to include the components for salsa. I have been making fresh salsa from our garden for forever. But, it wasn’t until the kids went back to school this year that my husband figured out how to do it himself.

My other half is one of the many who have been working from home for the past eighteen months—this wasn’t too awful. Since the kids were doing distance learning, he occasionally had people to talk to when they chose to come out of their caves. And, he had the option to send them to the store in the case of a salsa emergency.

Now that school is back in person and the kids are gone, the only one he has left is the dog. And, she can’t reach the gas pedal. So, out of desperation and in an attempt to use the tomatoes and chilies that we have coming out of our ears, he made his own salsa. And, it’s actually really good. (I say actually because his experiments can be well, concerning.) His salsa is even better if it sits for a day in the fridge and the flavors are allowed to meld. Beware though, this salsa is hot. By his standards, if you ain’t sweatin’ it ain’t worth it!

There is no actual recipe for George’s Garden Salsa which means it’s a little different each time. Everything is done by eye and taste testing. But, I have tried to lay it out the best I can below. Feel free to mess with it as you see fit. Roast the chilies on the grill, dial back on the heat, or add some avocado…it’s your canvas to do with as you please.

For those who like their salsa a little less chunky, throw half of the salsa (or all of it) in the food processor.

George’s Garden Salsa Recipe
Yields 6 servings Read more…